The Mitchell Group Newsroom

Aug 02, 2017

Zambia Library Project Update II

In August 2014 Ann Brunett began working with Gonzaga University in building a library in the rural village of Zambezi, Zambia. Here is Ann’s update on that project.
I recently returned from my second trip to Zambezi, a small rural village in Zambia. The country is located in the southern portion of Africa, sandwiched between Angola on the west and Mozambique on the east. Zambia doesn’t get much press. Its natural resources are sucked up by other nations, which arrive in Zambia with vows of economic growth and stability, but often leave with full pockets and vague recollections of what was promised to the people. Most of the country, especially the rural areas, lacks basic human services such as electricity, clean water and hospitals. Jobs are hard to come by. Illiteracy is rampant.
zambia library women
With their basic human needs largely unmet, it seems unlikely that this village community could be actively invested in a library, but it is. Chilenga Library opened its doors in 2015. It has 20,000 books, purchased with funds raised in part by Bill and me. It has a dedicated solar panel system that provides power for lights, computers and security. It recently acquired a full-time librarian, aptly named Memory, who is tasked not only with assisting students and teachers, but also parents, business owners, community leaders and anyone else who wants to read. They could be reading for pleasure, but often they are motivated by a desire to lift themselves up out of poverty, and to provide the promise of a meaningful future to their families within the context of their communities. They see education as a cooperative venture, as they are a people who give what they have to each other. They live by ubuntu, a Bantu phrase which translates to “I am because we are.” This essential human interconnectedness is inherent in everything they do, and it propels them forward.
Zambezi library boys
I was happy to see the photo of my parents, to whom the Reading Room is dedicated, still hanging on the wall where I put it two years ago. A photo of Edgar Lunda, the President of Zambia, hangs next to it. My father would have gotten a kick out of that. He’d also be satisfied that the library is alive and well, serving a community that has been largely marginalized. He was a big believer in libraries, and in always standing up for the underdog. He’d be pleased to see that this community of underdogs is beginning to stand up on its own; he’d tell them to keep reading, to keep working together and to not give up. Ubuntu.


Nine-year-old Robert emerged as a star student at the library this year. Robert came to my reading group every single day; at first he sat and listened with others as I read tales of Kalulu the Hare, knowing that every kid got a lollipop when the story was over. After a few days, he asked if he could read aloud, and did so beautifully. Finally, when younger kids began lining up at the door, hopeful for a seat (lollipops are an insane draw), he began translating the stories into Luvale, the local language, knowing that these kids wouldn’t begin learning English until 5th grade. He was taking care of them, as if he knew that more readers will make his community stronger. Ubuntu.
My friends in Zambezi may not have much in the way of material possessions, but they are filthy rich when it comes to selflessness – which is, after all, the root of ubuntu. I visited The Falconer Children’s Home and Orphanage, home to eighty-six kids children, most of whom have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. Young girls scoop up younger babies to quiet them; wrinkled old women tend to squash and potatoes boiling in a pot over the fire. Simon, who has lived here all his life and is now the director, told us stories of lying on the floor at night when he was a boy, feeling the walls shake as hippos romped in the river below. Others, like Mamas Phoebe and Eunice, grew up and left to marry and have children of their own, and are back now to give what they have. Ubuntu.
 Children reading in Zambezi library
In Zambezi, I spoke with a mother who had lost a child to malaria and was trying to safeguard the four she had left, and to another whose family was getting ready to burn the grasses on the plains around their village, hoping to lure out dozens of rats to be roasted and shared. I worked with Julius, who was promoting his plan to form a cooperative of women who weave floor mats in remote parts of the region; once he figured out a transportation budget (an ox and cart was his best bet), he planned to buy the mats at a fair price, and then profit by selling them at market. I left Zambezi thinking about strength, smarts, the love and kindness of the human spirit, and about the opportunities that communities gain when they invest in the power of cooperation. I’d do well to remember that here at home I, too, am because we are.
If you’d like to donate to the library, please send your tax deductible donation to:
The Office of University Advancement
Gonzaga University
502 E. Boone Ave
Spokane, WA  99202-9904
ATTN: Chilenga Library, Zambia


Ann Brunett - The Mitchell Group
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